SALT LAKE CITY — Stephanie Pelton is the Utah reporter for utezone.com and knows as much about the Utah football program as anyone. Given the gravity of Saturday's matchup, we asked Pelton nine questions regarding how Utah looks heading into its matchup against BYU.
How much hangover is there on the team after losing to Utah State? What is the attitude of the team and coaches this week?
Through the years, Utah has been known to inexplicably drop games that they shouldn't lose. Historically these losses have served as wake-up calls, and the results following such a loss are usually positive. So to expect Utah's best shot would not be unreasonable.
Utah is generally very good at handling the mental aspects of these types of games, turning anger and disappointment into something positive going into the next week. The best example of this was the puzzling 27-0 loss at UNLV in 2007, which by all accounts, fueled the Utes' run through the rest of that season, which carried over into their Sugar Bowl season.
Is the BYU game still a big deal for players at Utah and for the fans? Has the attitude toward the rivalry game changed since Utah joined the Pac-12?
Anyone on the Utah side who claims the BYU game isn't a big deal probably isn't being forthcoming. However, it’s also true that the outcome carries far less meaning in the current state of college football. No question that a loss to BYU still stings, but it no longer precludes Utah from achieving its ultimate goals — to win the Pac-12 South, then the Pac-12 conference championship.
Bragging rights and perhaps some recruiting implications are all that remain, but in the larger scheme of things, the weight of the rivalry from the Utah side is unquestionably diminished.
Ute coaches aren't tipping their hand on which quarterback will start against BYU. What's the best reason to start John Hays and what is the best reason to start Travis Wilson? What do you think coaches will ultimately do?
Jon Hays is battle-tested and the Ute coaching staff knows what they're going to get from this quarterback. When the bullets are flying, Hays leaves it all out on the field, and the team knows they will always get his best effort, whatever result that brings. The team is drawn to that quality and they'll follow suit. However, to expect simply a gutsy effort this year from Hays would be remiss. Hays has worked incredibly hard to improve his passing game and is a much more effective quarterback than last season. He could surprise the Utes' next few opponents, should they take him lightly, or judge by last season's film alone.
Kyle Whittingham has already called Travis Wilson the future of Utah football, and many are anxious for the Wilson era to begin. Wilson is a natural talent with every physical tool one might desire in a DI quarterback. Wilson is cool under pressure, versatile and a relative unknown for opponents in the near future, which might be his biggest positive at the moment. The only thing Wilson lacks is inexperience and perhaps the ability to lead the team under somewhat adverse conditions. Both things will surely come for Wilson, but this team is more likely to follow Hays into battle given that they've already been down that road with him before.
Look for Jon Hays to start, with a package of offensive plays designed for Wilson, much as the Utes have done already this season.
What led to Utah's offensive struggles against the Aggies and how are coaches addressing those struggles this week?
Most people were surprised by Utah's lack of offense against Utah State, including the team itself. Utah very much respected Utah State's defense, but still felt confident in their game plan and offensive personnel heading into Logan. Two things combined for the end result: a better than expected Utah State defense and a disappointing showing from Utah's offensive line.
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